Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chicago Marathon 2015 Race Report

The Backstory

I had two previous odysseys with the Chicago Marathon in 2010 and 2012. I didn't run in 2010 with an injury. In 2012, I finished with a 3:22 with sub-optimal training (averaging about 25 mpw with just one 50 mile week and two 40 mile weeks). I was surprised by how fast the course felt. It was perhaps the flattest course I had ever run on. I would rate it faster than Berlin.

I signed up for the marathon in 2015 with the goal of getting in a faster time. There is something about redeeming yourself in the marathon majors. I felt I had redeemed myself in Berlin. Now, I wanted to do the same at Chicago.  I was cognizant of the fact that the Chicago marathon has had sub-optimal weather in the most recent editions. Weather in Chicago in early October is fickle. Therefore, I decided to sign-up for the race while keeping CIM as a backup.

I trained diligently, following the Pfitzinger 18/87 program with a few deviations. I added some track workouts and ran a few extra miles. I went into Chicago with the most miles I had ever run during a training period. I had run 2711 miles for the year, with 13 straight 80 mile+ weeks (two of them being 91 mile weeks). I however I think I was at a better fitness level last year... On reflection the key reason was my diet and therefore my weight. I was under the fallacy that if I ran so much I could eat anything I wanted to. My body let me know that things don't work this way! I was about ten pounds over my weight last year.

Leading into taper I watched in dismay as the weather forecast turned from perfect to warm to warmer... It finally settled to a prediction of a windy and sunny day, starting in the mid-50s and finishing in the upper-60s. My reaction to this forecast went from disappointment to anger to frustration to acceptance...

Also, in the last week of taper, my muscle aches and soreness caused me to question if I could even attempt to run at a semblance of a decent pace. While I had experienced these "phantom" aches before, doubts began to creep in. The wisdom on the Internet assured me that this was normal and my muscles were healing from the pounding of training. It would be ready on race day they reassured!

Onto Chicago

Having partaken in the touristy activities in my previous Chicago marathon trip, this trip was more "business-line". I boarded a red-eye which left Seattle at 1am and reached Chicago at 7am. I took the metro to my accommodation, which was just a couple of blocks from Grant Park (the race start and the finish).

I took the first possible shuttle to the expo from the Hilton at 9am. I didn't want to risk waiting in a long line to pickup my number. I found the packet pickup to be incredibly well-organized - it barely took me 30 seconds to get my stuff! I didn't notice many vendors of interest (or perhaps I did not try hard enough) and made it back as soon as possible.

It was fascinating to watch the runners from so many different countries - many were in a country/club attire... Brazil, Poland, Spain, Mexico... Approximately 10,000 of the 40,000 runners in the race are from overseas I learnt. During my travels over the world I am always gratified to see the ubiquity of running. Norms and cultures may vary but at the purest level, running transcends all.

After napping for a couple of hours, I headed out on my final pre-race run. A 4 miler. Saturday was a beautiful day - cool and perfect for running. How I had wished that the race day forecasts were wrong but they were spot on. I ran along the waterfront and made a note to visit the place again to take pictures after the race.

I had a reservation for a pre-race dinner with fellow SGLRG folks at Sophie's, a nice Italian restaurant. My pasta with jumbo prawns did end up being an interesting eat! That said I seemed to have to work too hard to get my carbs :)


I had three goals for this race:

Goal C: 3:22 - This would beat my previous Chicago marathon time. Given how much I trained this time around, it would be very disappointing if I did not meet this.

Goal B: 3:07 - This I assume would have been the minimum to make it through to Boston 2017.

Goal A: 3:03 - A personal best.

Race Day Morning

I woke up at 5am and left my place as late at 6:30am! It was a luxury to just be a couple of blocks from the race start. When I was told that I had a late 1pm checkout, I remarked that one way or the other I would be back at 1pm!

I headed to the Buckingham fountain where folks from SGLRG had decided to meet for a group at 6:45am. I didn't see anyone on reaching there. The fountain is huge so I did a couple of loops of it to see if I was at the wrong place. When I was about to head out I saw Melody. The marathonfoto folks took a quick pic and I was ready to head to my corral.

I had signed up for the pre-race Marathonfoto $75 for $50 gift certificate. Therefore, I made it a point to stop for pics from the photographers all over the start area...

I made it into Corral A to take my spot. This year I felt like I belonged and deserved to be there. Three years back I was almost embarrassed to be in the corral.

People watching in the corrals is always intriguing more so in such an international race. There was a lot of jockeying for positioning in the corral - people squeezing and pushing to get to the front. The last thing I wanted was for one of them to stamp my toes!

I really had serious doubts in the last week of taper. I didn't know what pace will come out of my legs. Would it even be 7:30 pace? The previous day, on a list of tips from a local running coach, one was to make the best of optimal conditions in a race on a sub-optimal weather day. That tip would definitely applicable today... I didn't consciously plan to act on it but perhaps would act on it at a sub-conscious level...


Temperature: 54F-68F
Humidity: 69%-49%
12-15 mph winds

[At 1 second mark in video]

mile 1: 6:57, 157 (HR)

Starting to run! The adrenaline burst! Legs felt OK. It was a relief that it was sub-7 pace! The conditions were good and the course felt fast...

I saw runners jumping over the road dividers to join their pace group. Quite dangerous if you ask me. All it takes is a sprained ankle to end your race :)

I tried to follow the blue line indicating the shortest route.

mile 2: 6:48, 169
mile 3: 6:53, 170
05Km 43:03 21:30 @ 06:55

mile 4: 6:48, 170
Tree lined LaSalle Drive. I overheard a couple of folks mention as I passed - "Was that Sub?". I wanted to turn back and see who that was but I didn't/couldn't. It surely was not anyone from Seattle. Now I'll be left to wonder for ever :) I've run into folks I haven't seen for years at marathons...

mile 5: 6:57, 170
mile 6: 7:01, 167
10Km 01:05:03 21:33 @ 06:57

While the course is pancake flat ... There are some areas of inclines and some areas of declines. During one of these inclines a guy running next to me exclaims - "I thought this was a flat course!"

mile 7: 6:59, 167
mile 8: 7:06, 168
After the initial exuberance my pace was gradually diminishing. The conditions were becoming less idea.

mile 9: 7:08, 165
15Km 22:00 @ 07:05
mile 10: 7:09, 164
Running through old town. The crowds were electric! It must have been an awesome day to be a spectator. During the run I saw a sign from a lady indicating that she was single with her phone number. Then I was the equivalent of a Wellesley kiss stop but no guy stopped!

mile 11: 6:59, 165
I was still ahead of the 3:05 group. I knew they were creeping up on me from the cheers of the crowds.

mile 12: 7:06, 165
Iris passed me. She had started from corral B and was running very well! Next the pace group caught up with me. I ran with them for a bit.

mile 13: 7:08,  183
20Km 01:27:03 22:00 @ 07:05
HALF 01:31:52 04:49@07:05
The half way mark was noisy and crowded. The ever-inspiring Rocky theme playing.

mile 14: 7:06, 185
mile 15: 7:06, 165

25Km 01:49:09 17:17 @ 07:08
mile 16: 7:17, 174
My shoe laces came undone... As I stopped to tie my laces and the pace group went on without me. I didn't have the strength to catch up with them again.

I was now fighting the strong headwinds alone :( There were portions where I got with a pack. That helped but I didn't stay with them long enough. Also, portions where the shade was protecting us from the sun was such a welcome relief...

When I passed the logo-ed photo-op spots I made sure I had my hands up and tried to smile. After all these are the memories that will linger for the ages. My favorite picture from my first marathon is one of these logo-ed spots. I still go back and look at it :)

mile 17: 7:07, 166
mile 18: 7:16, 166
The aid stations were so incredibly well organized - I could feel a boast whenever I hit them...

30Km 02:11:41 22:32 @ 07:16

mile 19: 7:23, 166
I was quickly beginning to fade. This is a point when the wheels can totally fall off. I told myself that I did not want to walk. Even if I did 8 min miles I would be OK!

mile 20: 7:20, 173

mile 21: 7:43, 176
35K 02:35:02 23:21 @ 07:31
Through the Chinatown gate...

While passing through most of the neighborhoods were a blur for me, I did distinctly register going through chinatown. I had looked like hell in 2012. While not feeling awesome this year I think I fared OK :p

[At 25 second mark in video]

mile 22: 7:31, 175
My primary fuel as in all my goal races is Cliff Shots. I did get a strip of Cliff Bloks. I realized why those were not going to work for me - I did not have the energy to put in the effort to chew at this stage!

mile 23: 7:43, 183
Onto Michigan Ave...

mile 24: 7:40, 173

I probably was not following the blue line anymore but I kept egging myself to go on. I set intermediate goals to meet...

mile 25: 7:39, 181
40K 02:58:51 23:49 @ 07:40
mile 26: 7:24, 179
mile .22: 1:51 @ 7:32, 173
The deafening roar of the crowds. The 800m marker ... 400m ... 200m ... FINISHED.

Finish 03:09:09 10:18 @ 07:34 
Average HR: 170

[At beginning of video]

Contrary to my surprise I did have a few sips of the beer which was being handed out at the finish. They were kind enough to hand it out without ID or the coupon on our bib (I had given away the coupon since I did not want to carry my ID and I did not think I'd care much for beer)...

I ran into Doug in the finish suite and we gradually limped back to our hotel while exchanging battle stories :) I wish I had known about the free massage - it would have been something I'd have wanted to get...


Net time: 3:09:09 @ 7:13 min/mile
Gun time: 3:09:45
Gender: 1388/20163
Age Group: 272/3286 
Overall: 1583/37371
Bib Number: 14034


I didn't get my main time goals for the race. I had a Boston Qualifying time in theory for 2017. However, going by the trends it isn't likely to actually gain me an entry.

That said this race was still very satisfying. I ran my second fastest marathon ever... In a great city marathon like Chicago! Some day I will look back and be proud that I could even run this race and then run it this fast!

What was my reward for this en-devour?  A deep dish pizza with custom toppings - mushrooms, chicken and jalapenos. Delicious but incredibly filling!


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